Recently having written a post about the benefits of açaí, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants we have – I was asked quite a few times what exactly an antioxidant is, and why we should care about them in our diets and lifestyles. Let’s see if I can break it down for you in a short, not-SO-scientific summary to help all of you out there that are wondering the same thing (and are too lazy to google it!)
We hear it on the news every day; high in antioxidants, rich in antioxidants. But, do you really know what antioxidants are, or why they’re so important to our health? Antioxidants literally do what they say, they prevent oxidation reactions in the body. They are anti-oxidizing. And why is this important? Oxidation reactions in the body produce oxygen-free radicals which are serious cell damagers and the cause of many diseases. Oxidative stress has been shown to be pivotal in the onset of many diseases such as cancer, heart disease, alzheimers, arthritis, and cataracts (to name only a few). While it’s proven that free radical damage is responsible for why we age, some would even argue that a lifelong overdose of free radicals (in conjunction with a body that isn’t maintained and looked after properly and healthily) is the reason why humans die. Found in nutrients and enzymes, antioxidants are compounds that protect our body’s cells from free-radical damage, and are the main method and answer for disease-prevention.
Don’t make any mistake – oxidation reactions are natural in the body (they happen when our cells use oxygen) and we cannot and should not try to prevent them. However, we do need to ensure we are consuming enough antioxidants to clean up the by-product of these reactions, the free radicals. Antioxidants are free-radical scavengers, scuttling about through the body, not only removing these free radicals, but also repairing the damage that they have done.
Believe it or not – your inability to lower or control your own stress level (there’s that word again – and no, it’s not a coincidence!) is the main culprit. Stress – or stressing the body (i.e. putting stress directly on the body – such as physically through working out, mentally through over-exhaustion, or emotionally through chronic mood fluctuations) actually creates free radicals in the body that cause this irreparable damage to your system. This further opens the door for environmental and dietary-source free radicals to come in and have an out of control house party in your body, without your internal police being able to regain control of the situation in time to prevent illness and disease from setting in permanently.
There are tons of healthy options and food sources for you to get your daily intake and to combat the free radical party in your own body (for an extensive list, click here.) Here are some of the most important sources, that are primarily alkaline and vegetarian (as these are alive and most easily absorbed, giving you a direct source and not adding to your body’s workload or stress):
- Glutathione: because all other antioxidants depend upon the presence of glutathione to function properly, scientists call it the master antioxidant. To give your body the best chance of manufacturing enough itself, try to eat a from wide variety of plant-based sources, such as asparagus, broccoli, avocados, and spinach.
- Vitamin A & carotenoids: these ones are easy to get, just hit the fresh aisle of the supermarket or grocery store and head for the colour! Carrots, peppers (capsicum), broccoli, sweet potato, greens, tomatoes are all really great sources. (If you’re living alkaline then you’ll be getting plenty of vitamin A from your greens!)
- Vitamin C: people naturally assume oranges and other citrus are main sources, but if you are trying to watch your sugar intake or keep your body more alkaline, you can get your vitamin C from green capsicum (peppers), broccoli, spinach (and other greens), tomatoes, and cauliflower.
- Flavonoids & polyphenols: green tea is great, but don’t go overboard on the caffeine! Vegetables high in flavonoids include onions, kale, green beans, broccoli, celery, tomatoes, peppers (capsicum), cabbage, carrots, and peas (…yes, wine is part of this category – in moderation; alcohol creates free radicals, FYI!)
- Vitamin E: this category is all about the almonds and sunflower seeds. Leafy greens are also good sources, but almonds and sunflower seeds have almost double the Vitamin E of other food sources.
- Lycopene: you probably have already heard to eat tomatoes for your lycopene fix, and they are pretty much (hands-down) the best source. The jury is still out as to whether lycopene is absorbed better from cooked instead of raw tomatoes, but it has been proven that vine ripened tomatoes outscore those tomatoes ripened off the vine (and I’m partial to raw, as again – the enzymes are what we’re after here!) Pink grapefruit is also a good source if you want to mix it up a bit (FYI – grapefruit, as is lemon, is wonderful for the liver!)
- Lutein: greens, greens, greens. That’s all there really is to say on this one.
- Lignan: flax seed/oil is the very best source of this antioxidant, giving another argument for the case to consume plenty of flax oil every day. If you use an oil blend like Spectrum Naturals you’re good to go. Again, sesame seeds and greens are another of the best food sources.
Can you see a theme emerging with some of these antioxidant sources? As a holistic nutritionist, I recommend that people eat a variety of foods daily from all of the basic food groups to ensure a proper daily intake, but to ensure you’re getting the real deal – raw and wholesome, fresh plant-based sources are #1 – always. Moreover, it is better to get the bulk of your nutrients, emzymes, and minerals directly from the foods you choose in your diet, as opposed to supplements. Next time your at your grocery store, you don’t have to go to the supplementation isle to find healthy remedies for stress, illness, and disease-relief – just walk the perimeter where the real vitamins, nutrients, and minerals are!
Consuming mega-doses of antioxidants can be harmful to your health due to their interactions with medications in addition to their potential toxicity with your personal level of health and lifestyle, so please do consult your holistic nutritionist or naturopath for personal dosages, use, and what’s right for you.Stephanie xoxo
Want more Health Blog: Stressed Desserts?
- Homemade Chocolate Truffles - December 10th, 2010
- Steph's FAMOUS Spiced Nut recipe - April 30th, 2010
- Stressed Desserts: Chocolate-Chili Cookie Recipe - March 25th, 2010
- Stressed Desserts: Vitamin D could change your life - March 23rd, 2010
- Stressed Desserts: 12 cures for the winter blues - February 24th, 2010